[Beowulf] A couple of interesting comments

Gerry Creager gerry.creager at tamu.edu
Fri Jun 6 17:34:53 PDT 2008

Tim Cutts wrote:
> On 6 Jun 2008, at 6:45 pm, Perry E. Metzger wrote:
>> Bill Broadley <bill at cse.ucdavis.edu> writes:
>>>> 2.  BIOS had a couple of interesting defaults, including warn on
>>>> keyboard error (Keyboard?  Not intentionally.  This is a compute
>>>> node, and should never require a keyboard.  Ever.)  We also find the
>>>> BIOS is set to boot from hard disk THEN PXE. But due to item 1,
>>>> above, we never can fail over to PXE unless we load up a keyboard
>>>> and monitor, and hit F12 to drop to PXE.
>>> Very strange standard for a server, let alone a cluster node.
>> I would be less disturbed about such things if it was trivial to alter
>> the BIOS settings in a semi-automated way -- say by booting some
>> standalone program, or loading a file from a USB thumb drive. Then you
>> could just go up to each box with a USB thumb drive, turn it on, and
>> have it fix itself in a consistent way. However, the fact that you
>> can't generally automate fixing BIOS settings makes all of this far
>> more annoying.
>> Anyone have any cool tricks for how to consistently set the BIOS on
>> large numbers of boxes without requiring steps that humans can screw
>> up easily?
> Nope.  :-)  This is, in my view, one of the major disadvantages of PC 
> clusters.  The crappy old BIOS that we're stuck with.
> Here, we mostly get around this problem by using blade servers rather 
> than pizza boxes.  Or at least using pizza boxes which have some form of 
> command line access to a lights-out management processor that allows us 
> to set the boot order, such as those on HP ProLiants and Sun X**** servers.
> So with c-Class blades from HP, for example, I don't really have a 
> problem - once the chassis is configured, I make them all PXE boot by 
> ssh'ing into the Onboard administrator and typing:
> set server boot first pxe all
> poweron server all
> Bingo, all 16 machines PXE boot at about 1 second intervals.  Job's a 
> good'un.  As Joe says, you get what you pay for.   I don't think I've 
> *ever* had to futz around with BIOS settings on any recent bladeserver 
> (I used to have to on our old RLX bladeservers, which periodically got 
> confused and lost all the CMOS settings, which required manual fixing in 
> the BIOS).  But the IBM and HP stuff we use now, it's very rare indeed.

Yeah.... Part of the problem.  The last several clusters I've worked on, 
we didn't have to futz with the BIOS, either.  HOWEVER, it's been 
pointed out to me that "You get what you pay for" and part of what you 
pay for is the competent folks making sure such futzing isn't required.

Gerry Creager -- gerry.creager at tamu.edu
Texas Mesonet -- AATLT, Texas A&M University
Cell: 979.229.5301 Office: 979.862.3982 FAX: 979.862.3983
Office: 1700 Research Parkway Ste 160, TAMU, College Station, TX 77843

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